A new future for Wenceslas Square?

Wenceslas Square

Prague 1's Town Hall has announced a tender for plans to revamp the city's main thoroughfare, Wenceslas Square, with councillors saying layout and transport need to be improved. They also want to ban parking and to see more pedestrian areas.

Prague's Wenceslas Square: a natural hub of the city and a busy one at that. Every day endless streams of tourists make their way across its length, together with locals on their way to work, or shoppers just hitting the stores - all under the watchful eye of the square's famous statue of St Wenceslas on horseback. As a site, it's a natural one for visitors. But, there are problems too, there are the cars... which many pedestrians say are choking the 750-metre square to death.

That could all be about to change. After years of speculation the city has at last announced a tender on redesigning Wenceslas Square that could see major modifications. Though it is early days and proposals will only be put forward in the autumn, the idea is that whatever the final decision, the square should become far more user-friendly. Earlier, I spoke with Tomas Mikeska, the head of an organisation known as The Friends of Wenceslas Square. I asked him what kind of improvements he and other members would like to see.

"Our idea is that Wenceslas Square should be an attractive area for locals as well as foreigners - day and night. Pedestrians should be able to make their way around easily, and there should be public transport. A tram should run up the top part of the square. Way back in '96 when we first got our organisation together we made a list of things like that we'd like to see: some of them came about on their own. Still, a lot of negative elements remain, like food stands with the stench of cooking. And of course continuing prostitution at night. Those are amongst the biggest problems on the square."

Not everyone will agree with all of the proposals and - as with any tender - the devil will be in the details. But the fact is almost any change to Wenceslas Square that keeps pedestrians in mind will be an improvement: fewer seedy elements, fewer eyesores, greater greenery, and a wider promenade.

"A wider promenade would make a great difference, especially when you compare it to Na Prikope Street nearby. It's far cleaner, there's less prostitution and crime. The difference is like day and night, like the two streets were in a different city. Also, one thing we've always backed as an organisation has been rerouting the main highway - the magistrala - that cuts through the top of the square. We want to see it moved further up and we'd like them to build a tunnel. That would restore the integrity of the site."

Architects will now submit their proposals by the end of November in a project expected to be completed no sooner than 2010.